February 2021

Richard Corben

Speaking of the passing of greats, I was not actively blogging last December when Richard Corben died unexpectedly, after heart surgery. Very sad loss—I was certain he had another ten years of great stuff in him. He was one of those artists whose work never really bowed to the passage of time.

Most people would only know his work because he did the iconic cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 classic album Bat Out of Hell. And, sadly, a lot of those folks doubtless don’t even know his name.

Bat Out of Hell

From my own collection, here’s a few other things he did. We’ll probably be talking some more about his work soon. RIP, Corb…

Corben Comics

David Bowie’s Toy

As it was the fifth anniversary of DB’s death last month (according to the Nu-Time of the sim we’re now in, at any rate), I was moved to fiddle with an old design idea for his unreleased 2001 album Toy. You can read some background detail on the project here.

I did a version of this cover concept back in 2005, actually six years before the full Toy bootleg leaked… we already had several of the tracks via 2002’s Heathen and its various B-sides. My earlier effort (which I can’t locate offhand) actually used the same source photo I’ve used here (taken by legendary photog Mick Rock circa 2001), but it was very amateurish. So I had a 2021 go at it.

There is a concept to this design, loosely. Because most of the album was new versions of 1960s songs, with just three original songs (two of which later appeared on Heathen), it seemed to me a mixture of retro and early noughties was the ticket. The retro is the slightly trippy feel—I decided the ball bearings David has up to his eyes are actually “Orbs of Insight” or somesuch, generating that trippy effect of past colliding with (then) present. The 2001 aesthetic comes from the overall simplicity—and it seems to me those orangey hues were quite popular at the time. Why, I don’t know. The font is a variant on Barnbrook’s title font for Heathen—Priori.

I hadn’t done any straight design work for ages, so it was fun, and I was happy with the result. For a change. See below also for Mick’s original foto for contrast.

David Bowie - Toy

David Bowie - Toy

Comics: The Dying Craft Of Lettering

I no longer mind being called a Luddite. It might’ve bothered me once. Now, it’s become a lazy catchall slur meant to target anyone who has any kind of reservation about technological ‘progress’—because, after all, progress is an unalloyed good which everyone must believe in like obedient cult members.

(The concept of progress, and/or something being progressive, is not, semantically or in actuality, a good of any kind—or a bad of any kind. It’s a neutral idea that can/should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. For instance, in the negative, pretty much every terminal disease is ‘progressive’.)

Anyhow. I was all for digital tech and online stuff back in the day. And by that, I mean 15+ years ago. Maybe you have to be immersed in something for a while to start seeing the dangers properly. Digital has an insidious tendency to slowly, creepingly replace everything it touches with a digital facsimile. Often as not, the craft or physical actuality it replaces gets killed off completely… or, in cases like, for instance, film being made on film, a few stubborn holdouts will keep the organic original alive (Tarantino, Nolan, etc).

In comics there are a number of aspects you could mention, but let’s focus on LETTERING. To be blunt, digital lettering requires no craft. It’s a form of typsetting. And to any digital letterers out there, SORRY—BUT NOT SORRY. I accept that there’s skill in it—but there’s no craft.

To underline this point, take me. Give me one of those Comicraft fonts, some balloon templates, etc, and my work is indistinguishable from anyone else using same to do their digital lettering.

But hand lettering? I’m absolutely terrible at it. I just don’t have that craft. Don’t tell me this isn’t meaningful. Of course it is.

On top of that, digital lettering kind of SUCKS. It’s so damn sterile. Like so many other digital techniques, it largely or completely removes the human aspect. Some professional digital letterers actually do make two or three variants on their fonts so they can try to fake the letter variations seen in real hand-lettering. It’s superficially effective but it’s also a bit crazy and kinda lame—if you want that imperfection, USE YOUR FUCKING HANDS!

The results of hand-lettering require genuine craft as well as a physical interaction between the artist and the art surface. It’s a tactile thing. I don’t understand why so many people are obsessed with removing that component… from just about… everything. If we’re heading for a post-physical world, you can count me out.

Let’s end with some lettering examples. I don’t have my scanner to hand, so I grabbed a couple off the Web and cropped them down a bit. Firstly, one of the all-time greats in comic book lettering is Artie Simek. He did beautiful, bold, clear work, great sound effects, imaginative titles. He’s a gold standard. This is two tiers of page two of Fantastic Four #102 (1970), lettered by Art. The drawings are by Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott; if you didn’t know that, for shame…

Fantastic Four 102

Secondly, two tiers from Fantastic Four: Antithesis #2 (2020). I don’t even care who did the lettering. It speaks for itself. There’s no comparison. A similar case could be made for the colouring. The artwork itself is fine; it’s by Neal Adams & Mark Farmer… this, BTW, was the nearest Marvel Comics came to publishing a half-decent comic in 2020.

Fantastic Four Antithesis

Thoughts? If you disagree, lemme know!